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7 Ways to Stay Cool on the Cheap

Beat excessive heat without breaking the bank

Woman sits on sofa holding hair off her face to feel the cooling breeze from an electric fan on the coffee table
iStock / Getty Images

Staying cool is tough enough during a massive heat wave, but add soaring energy prices and inflation to the mix and it can be downright expensive too. At last check, energy costs are up 41.6 percent year over year, and food is 10.4 percent higher.

For budget-conscious older adults, blasting the air conditioner all day and stocking up on an endless supply of bottled water may not be ideal, but there are other ways to stay cool without breaking the bank, including these seven. 

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1. Close the curtains

One of the easiest ways to stay cool without running your air conditioner all day is to close your curtains during daylight hours. This will keep the sun out and stop your rooms from overheating. If you have blackout curtains, even better. There are also films available for your windows that keep the heat out without sacrificing the view. “Doing what you can to eliminate the heat source through the sun can really make a difference,” says Mallory Micetich, a home care expert at Angi, the internet home improvement referral company. 

2. Give your air conditioner a tune-up

If you do have to run your air conditioner, make sure it’s operating as efficiently as possible. Otherwise, the unit has to work harder, which means more money spent on energy. Simple upkeep, like changing the filters, can improve the unit’s performance. “With rising costs, you are trying to extend the lifetime of the units so you don’t have to replace them in the near term,” says Emily Irwin, senior director of advice and planning for Wells Fargo. If your air conditioner has an energy-saver mode, use it, says Irwin. 

3. Fans are your friend

Fans get a bum rap when compared to air conditioners, but they can be an excellent way to stay cool without spending a lot of money. “Fans use a fraction of the energy compared to air conditioner units,” says Micetich. “You can keep fans running all day and not add to your electricity bill like an AC would.” Most ceiling fans are directional, which means you can change the way the blades spin and the air flows. To keep the room cool, Micetich says the blades should spin counterclockwise. That helps push the cold air downward onto you. In the winter, the fan blades should spin clockwise, pulling the cold air up. Creating cross-ventilation by using a ceiling and a window fan simultaneously is also a cheap and efficient way to cool your living space. “Using two fans can reduce heat throughout the home,” says Micetich. 

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4. Shun the oven

Cooking a three-course meal in a heat wave is probably not the best use of your time and energy. Ovens give off heat, warming the room by a couple of degrees. The same goes for other appliances, such as your dishwasher or dryer, which emit heat when in use. Avoiding them when the temperature is sizzling can be a cool strategy. “During the summertime I never use a dryer; it keeps the energy usage down,” says Micetich. “Take advantage of the heat and air-dry your clothes.” 

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5. Keep it light

In cold weather wear a sweater, but in extreme heat the less clothes the better. Wearing loose-fitting, lightweight clothes and sleeping with sheets instead of heavy blankets can go a long way toward keeping you cool. Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water and using ice will lower your body temperature. 

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6. Tap your community

If you can’t afford to join the pool or get to the beach, there are still free ways to cool off. Many communities across the country provide ways for older adults to stay cool during the summer months, including community centers, cooling stations, malls and libraries, says Irwin. They are usually air-conditioned and don’t charge an admission fee. Museums, movie theaters and playhouses often offer discounts and freebies to older adults and can be great places to stay cool and entertained. 

7. Shop around to save

Stocking up on water, ice cream, ices or whatever you need to stay cool doesn’t have to break the bank either. Without a doubt, inflation is making groceries more expensive, but there are several ways to find discounts and deals — whether that means clipping coupons, becoming a loyalty member at your local supermarket or taking advantage of senior days. Pay attention to the price per unit when purchasing water, says Irwin. You want to ensure you’re getting the maximum for the cost. If possible, buy your water in bulk to maximize the savings. 

“There is not a one-size-fits-all solution” to staying cool on the cheap, says Micetich. “It’s doing a lot of little mitigations layered on top of each other.”

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